Martin Callanan MEP: We’ve improved the Common Fisheries Policy and debated with Hollande – now it’s time to vote on the EU budget
Martin Callanan MEP is Chairman of the European Conservatives. This is his monthly letter to ConHome readers. Follow the ECR Group on Twitter.
“The deal is done,” came the tweet from European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. The seven-year budget had been agreed. For the first time in EU history there was a cut; the religion that the only way is up for EU budgets had been broken.
Which, of course, is exactly why many MEPs are up in arms. To them, only More Europe will solve our problems. The financial crisis: More Europe! Climate change: More Europe! People fall off a ladder: More Europe!
I was very pleased with the deal that our Prime Minister came away with. Yes, the UK’s contributions will rise, which is disappointing. But let’s be in no doubt as to why: because of the deal Tony Blair agreed in 2005. In reality, thanks to him and to Douglas Alexander, the UK’s contribution was always going to rise as a cash sum – although it is set to fall as a share of GNI now thanks to the PM's stance.
Now the debate moves to the European Parliament, which can approve the deal with an “absolute majority” (a majority of all MEPs, not just those present). The federalist group leaders have already rejected it because it cuts spending, because it doesn't give the EU tax-raising powers of its own, and it does not introduce the possibility to revise it up under Qualified Majority Voting – which would remove the UK’s veto.
The parliament also argues that as commitments (the credit card limit) are higher than payments (the cash on hand), the EU is effectively running a deficit budget, which is illegal. The flaw in this argument is that if this budget is illegal, all budgets in recent memory were as well. Instead, the commission needs to manage its projects better so that it knows how much money is needed on an annual basis, and when national governments rightly squeeze the budget, savings must be found. A good place to start would be French agriculture. As I remarked in the chamber last week, the EU budget is a growth budget – as long as you’re a French cow; a comment that seemed to make it on to French news bulletins.
It’s possible the parliament will vote on this next month. Of course, in the meantime, a lot of Party leaders and Prime Ministers will be on the phone to their MEPs demanding they back this agreement. With European Parliamentary selections coming up, where Party leaders handpick some lists, this would normally focus MEPs’ minds. In order to resist that pressure and to enable MEPs to vote “with their consciences”, the leaders of the EPP, Socialists, Liberals and Greens have proposed using a procedure that allows for a secret ballot.
My group will oppose such a ballot vociferously and demand that everyone be held to account for how they vote. Is it any wonder people are so cynical about the EU when its leaders act in such a cynical manner towards the processes of democracy and accountability?
Before the summit we had a visit from French President Francois Hollande. He delivered an address to the parliament and then engaged in a debate with the parliamentary group leaders. To his credit, as a Head of State, he was not obliged to debate with us, but he decided to anyway.
To jeers of “warmonger” from UKIP, in my speech I thanked the President for France's intervention in Mali and paid tribute to the forces from France and the UK working to confront the growing terror threat on our doorstep. I had a dig at him over the continued shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg. It’s a nice city and everyone should visit once, but not once a month, I told him.
And then I thanked him for showing us our future if we followed him down the road of socialism, with a punitive income tax regime, an inflexible labour market, and a retirement age fit for the 19th Century. I also thanked his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for the analogy he made after David Cameron’s EU speech, where he said that the UK's position was like joining a football club and deciding you want to play rugby. Of course, on a football pitch was exactly where rugby was invented. And, more importantly, it enabled me to get in a mention of France’s defeat to Italy in the Six Nations, and a mention of the large number of French players my football team Newcastle has signed from France – possibly to avoid Hollande's 75 percent income tax rate. After the debate, the President came up to me and boasted about Paris’s signing of Beckham – oblivious to the fact that he's giving his income to charity, thus avoiding paying the French Exchequer. You can see my speech here.
There was one piece of good news to come from the parliament and that’s our vote on Common Fisheries Policy reform. We all know that the CFP has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment, for fish stocks, and for fishermen. The last fisheries commissioner admitted so himself. In an ideal world I’d repatriate the policy tomorrow. However, we’ve done the next best thing with the reform put through by taking power for fisheries management out of the hands of Brussels bureaucrats and handing it back to national governments, who can determine fishing policies that suit each basin in consultation with scientists and the fishermen themselves. The reform also brings about an end to the practice of discards – where dead but perfectly edible fish is thrown back to comply with quota rules. It’s the most immoral aspect of the CFP and we’ve been campaigning for a number of years to see it brought to an end.
My colleagues Julie Girling and Struan Stevenson put in an enormous amount of work on the reform package and the result will be a CFP that is significantly improved. It’s just a shame that it took the European Commission so long to get to this point.
Finally, a small plug for my colleague Edvard Kozusnik’s video. He has taken a second of footage from every day in the last year and made it into a 5 minute video aimed at promoting the “One Seat” campaign for the European Parliament by showing how much travelling MEPs have to do. It’s worth a watch. I just hope his wife agreed to include “Feb 4th”.That’s it from me for this month. On Monday we have Herman Van Rompuy coming to the European Parliament to report back to an open meeting of the parliament’s group leaders on the budget deal. I will be calling for the parliament to vote for the deal, and to vote in public. It should be an interesting discussion!